The Lancaster Raid was the first in a series of five planned raids on English colonist towns during the winter of 1675 as part of King Philip’s War.
Metacom, known by English colonists as King Philip, was a Wampanoag sachem involved in leading and organizing Wampanoag warriors during the war.
Teaming up with Nipmucs and Narragansetts, Wampanoag warriors were able to successfully raid the town of Lancaster, securing provisions and prisoners to help them carry onward into their winter offensive.
The Lancaster Raid was preceded by several years of mounting tension between English colonists in Lancaster and their Native American neighbours, particularly those in Nashaway. This tension stemmed from the decline in the fur trade due to overhunting, the decrease in the native population due to European-derived diseases, and the invasion of English livestock on Indian land.
In 1675, the Wampanoag sachem Metacom cited his grievances as, “English cheating, discrimination, and pressures to sell land, submit to Plymouth colony’s authority, convert to Christianity, and consume alcohol”. To relieve tensions and ensure loyalty, Daniel Gookin, the superintendent of Christian Indians, travelled to Nipmuc villages to establish praying towns and convert the inhabitants to Christianity. However, the Nipmucs in Nashaway, unlike many other towns, still did not agree to become a praying town due to an intense distrust in the English and their missionaries.
Attack on Lancaster, 1675
Tensions continued to escalate until August 1675, when Nipmucs from Nashaway staged an attack, led by the Nipmuc sachem Monoco, on Lancaster colonists. Seven inhabitants of Lancaster died during the attack. To prevent future damages, Lancaster created several garrison houses, large establishments in which many colonists would gather during times of military strife, protected by fourteen stationed soldiers. After this, the war continued to spread westward, with Indians staging many attacks on different English towns.
The Lancaster Raid, commonly remembered as a surprise attack, was not entirely a surprise. In December 1675, Daniel Gookin and the other leaders of the Massachusetts Council recruited two Christian Nipmuc men, James Quannapohit and Job Kattenanit, to act as spies. They were sent to gather information about other groups of Native Americans’ loyalties and plans of attack against the English settlements. Travelling with the Nipmucs, the spies discovered that both the Narragansetts and Nipmucs were planning to join Metacom’s Wampanoag warriors to “burn and destroy the other frontier towns”. The spies, Quannapohit and Kattenanit, were eventually found out and threatened by Metacom, so they chose to flee. They fled separately, with Quannapohit returning to Cambridge first on 24 January 1676, reporting to Gookin that the Nipmucs were planning an attack on Lancaster.
Although the leaders of the Massachusetts Council had been warned by Quannapohit, they did not take the threat seriously, and did little to prepare Lancaster for attack. They likely did not trust Quannapohit’s warning or had larger threats to consider at the time. Several men from Lancaster took the threat more seriously, and travelled to Boston to try to assemble more troops to bring home to Lancaster, but to no avail. On 09 February, Kattenanit also returned, warning the Council of the same threat: an attack on Lancaster, supposedly occurring the following day. Kattenanit reported that the attacking group of four hundred Indians had already set out for Lancaster. By then, the Massachusetts Council was finally ready to take the threat seriously, ordering garrisons from other towns to aid Lancaster. However, since the timing was so late, only one of the towns, Marlborough, received word by the next morning, and even then they were unable to arrive in Lancaster until after the Indians had already arrived and set the town on fire the following day.
The Lancaster Raid Occurs
The Lancaster Raid took place on 10 February 1676. The Native American forces consisted of four hundred joined Narragansett, Nipmuc, and Wampanoag warriors. Like the August 1675 attack, the Lancaster Raid was led by Monoco, known as “One-Eyed John” by the English.
The first action they took upon arrival was burning the bridge leading into town so that outside English reinforcements could not easily enter. Once in town, they lit houses on fire using torches, including the garrison stationed at the house of the village minister. The village minister, Joseph Rowlandson, was one of the men who had travelled to Boston to secure more troops, and had not yet returned to Lancaster.
Most of the soldiers in the garrison were able to survive the fire and were taken as prisoners, but a few soldiers perished in the fire. According to one estimate, at least fourteen Lancaster inhabitants died and twenty-three were captured and taken as prisoners. Eventually, Marlborough troops arrived, forcing the Indians to withdraw with their new captives.
After the raid, the medicine man, Tantamous (Old Jethro), and ten other Indians were falsely accused of the murders allegedly due to their “singing, dancing, and having much powder and many bullets and slugs hid in their baskets,” but they were acquitted when the true murderer, Monoco, a Nashaway, was discovered, and Peter Jethro, Tantamous’ son, actually communicated with the captors of Mary Rowlandson to obtain her release.
Mary Rowlandson is Taken Captive
Mary Rowlandson, the village minister’s wife, survived the fire and was taken prisoner for three months. In 1682, she wrote a best-selling captivity narrative describing her time as a prisoner, in which she described herself as a servant to Quinnapin, a Narragansett sachem. In reality, she was likely an adopted member of the household with an ambiguous status.
Although forced to perform seamstress work and other chores, Mary was treated relatively kindly by Quinnapin and Metacom, likely because of her high status among colonist society as well as her high political and economic value as a hostage. Her main grievance was of abuse by Quinnapin’s wife, Weetamoo, who demanded Mary’s subservience. One of Mary’s children died shortly after their capture, and her two other children were held in captivity separately from her. Eventually many of the captives were ransomed and returned home such as Rowlandson, Mrs. John Kettell, and others.
Lancaster is Abandoned
The town of Lancaster was devastated after the Lancaster Raid. Since the Indian attackers had taken much of their food provisions, Lancaster inhabitants were left vulnerable to another attack while they waited for food supplies.
Many inhabitants left town by way of carts sent by the General Court in March 1676, leaving the town mostly abandoned.